The Limits of My Austin City Experience: Attending the Taping of a Classic American Public Television Program

 

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[photo credit: David Martínez]

What was noteworthy about the Austin City Limits concert experience was that, not only was it the first time I saw this particular artist, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but also it was my first experience with attending a television taping of a live musical performance. When I was a nineteen year old community college student in southern California I went to a taping of the Joker’s Wild with my cousin, which was simply a matter of showing up for our teacher’s scheduled appearance, who was a contestant, standing in line, sitting in a waiting area, and waiting until it was our turn to sit in the audience. The ACL experience was nothing like that.

For starters, if you are not one of the “Friends of Austin City Limits,” which is a paid membership currently ranging from “Friends with a View” ($4,500) to “Friends on the Mezz” ($24,000), then you have to rely on the ACL ticket giveaway system, which is described as a “lottery.” The tickets are free, however, there is no guarantee that you will get a pair. About a week prior to the scheduled performance the web page announcing the taping will display an online form in which you provide your first and last name, in addition to an email address.

In the case of the NCATBS taping, the online form was made available on Monday, July 14 at 10 am (Arizona time) for a Sunday, July 20 concert. As for submitting your name and email multiple times, the ACL web page discourages you from doing such a thing, stating that all additional submissions will be eliminated. So, you are advised to request tickets once and leave it at that. Since I sincerely wanted to go to this show I abided by the rules. Nevertheless, I thought I detected a loophole. Specifically, I assumed that what ACL was trying to deter were multiple ticket requests from the exact same name and email address. However, I had three email accounts. So, I thought, why not use all of them? I also asked my wife, Sharon, to request tickets, too, whom I knew had at least two email addresses.

One of the more frustrating aspects to the ACL ticket giveaway system is that you are not informed right away if you have won tickets. After Sharon and I made our collective requests, we, or I should say “I” anxiously awaited word from ACL. That Monday morning, my wife flew off to Monterrey, CA for a writer’s retreat she had planned a couple of months earlier. In fact, she did not even bother putting in her request for tickets until she got to her hotel. As for me, I kept checking my email even though I already knew from ACL’s FAQ page that they would not distribute tickets until about two or three days before the show. Still, we do live in an online high-speed era in which instant notification is the norm. Nonetheless, in spite of my wishful thinking, I checked my email repeatedly to no avail. Then, early Thursday morning, July 17, after a restless night, I got a text from Sharon, who was still in Monterrey drinking her coffee before heading to the airport for home. “Hey I just got nick cave tix!!!!!”

The only way you find out if you have won tickets is when ACL emails you with the good news. The only way you know that you are not a winner is if you have the presence of mind to look at the same page you submitted your name and email address, where there will be a notice in red letters stating that all of the tickets have been distributed. Do not expect an email from ACL informing you of your bad luck!

Anyway, we had tickets! Sharon only put in a single request and she won! I got zippo for my clever attempt at submitting three times. In any case, what you have to do next is scramble to make travel arrangements. Fortunately, we had the presence of mind to make hotel reservations ahead of time, which we made just before putting in our ticket requests. For better of worse, after getting Sharon’s text, I groggily looked for last minute flights to Austin from Phoenix, of which there were several, but all at times I really did not want to travel. They were all either way too early or way too late, or required layovers that made for crazy long travel times. In the end, I wound up selecting flights straight from the airline’s web page, which cost obscenely too much, but at least they were decent times and were direct flights.

On the day of the show, we were staying at a hotel that was an easy ten-minute walk from the venue. Also, since we had arrived the day before, we had all day to look around the downtown Austin area, which included taking the opportunity to see firsthand where we were going later that night. What we learned was that nothing is obvious about where to go and what to do. What we also learned, which was equally important, is that the locals are pretty friendly and helpful.

When we got to the corner of Lavaca and 2nd, we immediately spotted a large gift shop displaying several ACL items, which stretched across the southwest block from Lavaca to Guadalupe. Naturally, we thought we would find the entrance to the Moody Theater at one end of the block or the other. When it was apparent that our quest for the theater entrance was to no avail, we went into the gift shop, where my wife asked the sales girl for directions. She proceeded to direct us to the other side of the street, pointing out the ticket window, then telling us that the theater entrance was around the corner from there, up a flight of stairs.

After browsing around the gift shop for while, where Sharon found “a lot of cute things,” we eventually left the premises, crossed the street at Guadalupe, then started walking back toward Lavaca. Along the way, we went up to the ticket window, which displayed a poster for the Saturday night NCATBS performance, complete with a “SOLD OUT!” sticker. We wondered if we were supposed to pick up our tickets here? Sharon then read a copy of the email she received from ACL, which told her:

“Please look for the acltv.com winner line signs on the street level at The Moody Theater (310 W. 2nd Street, Willie Nelson Blvd.). We will begin handing out passes at 6 pm. Please do not arrive before 6 pm. Doors to the Music Porch area will open at 6 pm and drinks are sold at the bar. We cannot guarantee admission if you arrive after 7:45 pm. Taping starts promptly at 8. The passes will be under your full name and you must present a photo ID.”

With that, we headed to the northwest corner of Lavaca and 2nd, where a bronze statue of Willie Nelson stood or, rather, sat on a pedestal, resting his acoustic guitar on his lap, complete with beard and braids. What you will see when you are standing before this landmark is a flight of stairs leading up to the Moody Theater entrance. “Okay,” we said, “at least we know where the theater is now.”

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[photo credit: Sharon Suzuki-Martinez]

Finally, at about a quarter to six, we walked over to the theater. Like most rock shows we have attended, there was already a line of people. As we waited we were still wondering at what point we get our tickets. Eventually, in fact, right at 6 pm, the line began to move. When we got to the bottom of the stairs the line was divided up alphabetically: A-L to the left, M-Z to the right. It was at the top of the stairs where an ACL volunteer was waiting with a clipboard, who then took Sharon’s driver’s license and matched her name with the appropriate one on her list of ticket winners. Once confirmed, we were both given ACL wristbands.

With our coveted wristbands fastened we went into the patio where a large crowd was mingling, buying drinks, and checking out the merch table. Still, we wondered about our tickets. How were we to know where to sit? As I was selecting an ACL tee shirt, Sharon asked for more info. What she found out was that we had to go stand in another line. The Friends of Austin City Limits mentioned earlier had their own entrance, while us ticket winners were segregated elsewhere and would only get to enter the theater after the Friends, which meant waiting in line from 6 to 7:40 pm.

Fortunately, we stood in line behind two women who had attended ACL tapings before and assured us that everything we had experienced so far was normal. When Sharon asked about how you know where to sit, one of the women informed us that you could sit anywhere that was open, which was good to know since we changed our seats three times before the show began, trying to find a decent view. With quick thinking and a jump on the rest of the crowd pouring in, we managed to find just the right spot.

For a review of the performance, please see “From Austin to Eternity: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Performing On Stage at the Moody Theater”

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